The Kerry Cow
The Kerry cow today is endangered. This rare breed is reckoned to be one of the oldest breeds in Europe. The skull is similar to that of Bos primogenus, the Stone Age auroch. The Kerry has been linked with the progress of the black Celtic Shorthorn which was brought northwards from the Mediterranean basin by the Neolithic people. The Celtic Shorthorn was also small as was the Heren, another small black breed from the Alps. The black bulls of the Spanish Camargue also have similarities with the Kerry.
The Kerry is found on marginal pastures and subsistence farms in southern and western Ireland. There are also a few herds in the United States and in Canada. Kerrys first made their appearance in the States in 1818 but had virtually disappeared by the 1930s. By 1983, only around 200 pedigree Kerrys remained prompting the Irish Department of Agriculture to help in the conservation and promotion of the breed.
Meat and draught power were the two main purposes of keeping cattle in the very early days. However the Kerry was the first breed to be seen as a supplier of milk and dairy products. The Irish Celts ate little meat but milk was consumed in various forms. It was made into butter or cheese or treated with herbs and stored underground. Thanks to the equable climate and long grazing season there was little variation through the seasons in the supply of milk.
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The Kerry is almost always black although an occasional red cow is seen. There may be some white on the udder. It is a finely boned animal. Most cattle nowadays are dehorned but if horns are present, they are slender and white with black tips. The Kerry cow is a great character, active and nimble, well able to thrive on the rough terrain of her native country. The size of the Kerry depends on the conditions of her upbringing, whether food was plentiful or conditions harsh. Cows weigh from 350 to 450 kgs and make good house cows. The bulls in general are amenable.
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It is an extremely hardy breed. In winter it grows a thick coat. Because of its small size and easy keeping, more can be kept on an acreage than other breeds. The cows are big and roomy and generally have no trouble calving. They make good mothers and, although rather slow to grow, the carcass is of excellent quality and the meat tender and juicy. Milk from the Kerry is highoy suitable for invalids and babies as the globules of butterfat are small making the milk easy to digest. It is also ideal for the production of yoghurt and cheese. Average milk yields are a minimum of 3000 to 3700 kgs with a butterfat percentage around 4%.
The Kerry is a thrifty animal, ideal for small crofters and hobby farmers. Being small, they are less intimidating. They will milk quite well on poor pasture and bull calves become 'freezer fillers'. When crossed with larger breeds, the calves are small and create few problems during birth. Although it is thought to be related to the Dexter, the Kerry is taller and slimmer. It is intelligent and can become quite attached to its family. A Kerry cross also makes a good house cow.